Pubdate: Tue, 14 Jun 2011
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2011 The New York Times Company
Author: Jim Dwyer


Night court in Manhattan, Monday, 7:30 p.m.

For a moment, after the lawyers had finished talking and the judge had
murmured the sentence, Felix did not move. He stood in front of the
bench, then looked at his lawyer, who nodded and sent him to wait in
the pews with the spectators.

Felix slid into the second row, the tension heaving from him in a big
sigh. For the first time in more than 30 hours, he was not sitting
among the arrested in the holding cells. On Sunday morning, he was
arrested on a charge of misdemeanor possession of marijuana with a
group of other young men gathered on 42nd Street for the National
Puerto Rican Day Parade.

"It's jammed back there in the pens," said the young man, who asked to
be identified only as Felix to avoid jeopardizing his chance for a
permanent job in the warehouse in New Jersey where he now has a
temporary position.

More people are arrested in New York City on charges of possessing
small amounts of marijuana than on any other crime on the books.
Nearly all are black or Latino males under the age of 25, most with no
previous convictions. Many have never been arrested before.

Last year, the police in New York City arrested more than 50,000
people on the marijuana possession charge, New York State Penal Law
221.10, which makes it a misdemeanor to openly possess or burn pot.
During the first four months of 2011, the marijuana arrests increased
by nearly 20 percent over the same period in 2010, said Harry G.
Levine, a sociologist at Queens College who has closely tracked the

Under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the number of low-level marijuana
arrests has exploded. A spokesman for the mayor described the arrests
as a way to fight serious crime.

"Hot-spot policing that focuses on the most violent neighborhoods has
led to dramatic reductions in violent crime," Frank Barry, a mayoral
aide, wrote in an e-mail. "Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool
for suppressing the expansion of street-level drug markets and the
corresponding violence."

Other elected officials in New York are challenging Mr. Bloomberg's
position and are moving to change the law. Hakeem Jeffries, a
Democratic member of the State Assembly from Brooklyn, said the
arrests were an outgrowth of the aggressive program of stop-and-frisks
in nonwhite neighborhoods.

"When these young people are stopped, they're told, 'Empty your
pockets; show us everything you have,' " Mr. Jeffries said. "They take
out a small quantity of marijuana, the cuffs are immediately put on.
If it remained in their pocket, it would be a violation, like a
traffic ticket."

DURING an appearance before a City Council committee in March, the
police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, was asked about the arrests by
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem. Mr. Kelly said they
helped keep crime low. When Ms. Mark-Viverito raised other questions,
he said: "If you think the law is not written correctly, then you
should petition the State Legislature to change it. The law clearly
says if you have marijuana in public view, you should be arrested.
It's a misdemeanor."

That led Mr. Jeffries and Mark Grisanti, a Republican senator of
Buffalo, to sponsor a bill that would make open possession of small
quantities of marijuana a violation, not a misdemeanor.

The mayor, who in the past has acknowledged personally enjoying the
use of marijuana, is opposed to the change. "This would encourage
smoking in the streets and in our parks, reversing successful efforts
to clean up neighborhoods and eliminate the open-air drug markets like
we used to find in Washington Square Park," Mr. Barry said.

He dismissed concerns that records of young people's arrests would
hinder their chances of getting ahead in life. Most marijuana charges
for first offenders are dismissed, Mr. Barry said.

"They are not saddled with criminal records because those records are
sealed," he said. Asked if the mayor's office believed that people who
had been arrested but had received a dismissal could honestly answer
"No" if they were ever questioned by employers or colleges, Mr. Barry
did not directly reply. He said, though, that under New York's
executive law, "employers cannot ask about old arrests."

The charge against Felix, the young warehouse worker in night court on
Monday, would be dismissed if he stayed out of trouble. "I'm glad to
get out of there," he said. "I've got to pay the rent by the 15th."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.